The making of a T-shirt mogul and leader of Mets fans
ON ITS FACE, THE 7 LINE IS ABOUT CLOTHES, BUT MEENAN’S greatest asset has turned out to be his ability to bring fans together. It turns out that it makes for good business, too. In 2012, the Mets, despite playing the largest media market in the nation, were 17th in home attendance, with an average crowd of 27,689 fans per game, according to Baseball-Reference.com. By comparison, the New York Yankees were second in attendance, and the division-rival Philadelphia Phillies, in the country’s fifth-largest market, led all of Major League Baseball. Both teams averaged more than 40,000 games per game. The Mets, degraded on the field by their owners’ financial problems, have not been in the top 10 in attendance since 2009, when the franchise averaged 39,118 fans per game, seventh best in baseball.
It is not easy being a Mets fan these days, as described by Times columnist Michael Powell September in an article headlined “Turn Out the Lights on the Mets.” It was a portrait of a disillusioned fan base and a half-empty stadium on game days.
Meenan, an eternal optimist when it comes to his team, is trying to change that fan culture with his army. He dreams that it can become unlike anything in baseball.
“We’ll do it once a month and then next year we’ll do it twice a month,” he said, earnestly. “And eventually, when the team’s in the playoffs, we’ll do it every game, whether all 860 fans show up to every game, at least half will. That’s infectious. The whole stadium will start getting into it and you won’t have people sitting on their hands during a full count with a man on third.”
After that attention-getting debut at the last game of last season, Meenan is planning many more group outings this season. He’s added 300 seats, which would make 860 ruckus-making fanatics sitting together across three outfield sections.
Last winter, Meenan posted group tickets for Opening Day on his site. Ninety-five dollars got you a ticket to the game, a special edition t-shirt, and a couple other souvenirs. The allotted 860 tickets sold out in 23 hours. Some weeks later, Meenan posted tickets for another outing, this time for a random Saturday game in late April. The price was $45. The day he posted the sale, he and Sayoran sat at their worktable in the warehouse, watching with amazement as 860 tickets sold in little more than four hours.
“We were like, holy crap,” Sayoran said. “That was intense.”
For Memorial Day weekend, he’ll bring another 860 loyalists to the park for the Mets’ showdown with the Yankees. That same week, he’ll take nearly 400 Mets fans to Yankee Stadium for a “Bronx Invasion.” Another road trip was just recently completed. Five hundred fans, who purchased tickets at $63 each, turned out for a May 18 expedition to Wrigley Field in Chicago.
“Everyone wants to go to Wrigley,” he said. “Wouldn’t you want to do it with another hundred Mets fans? That’d be more fun.”
Meenan frames it as a big fun-seeking exercise, but the marketing of it is all very deliberate. Meenan limits the number of games he offers in order to maintain demand. He only targets games he knows will be popular and looks for ones—like the Wrigley game and Subway Series match-up with the Yankees—that will be nationally televised. He’s angling not just for buy-in, but for broad exposure.
(The Mets press office did not respond to a request for the organization’s view of what Meenan is doing.)
Meenan gets stacks of fan mail expressing thanks for the shirts, the group games and the sense of community. Fans have even sent pictures of their The 7 Line tattoos. In one instance, Meenan received a letter from a fan who thanked him for helping him find love.
Boy from Virginia and girl from Florida, both distant Mets diehards, get wind of The 7 Line, buy some shirts, follow the company on Twitter and engage in online conversations with fellow fans via hashtag. One day, boy, home in Chesapeake, Va., notices girl and intimates that he finds her attractive through a tweet. Girl, sitting the passenger seat of her friend’s car on a road trip to Tallahassee, bored and checking her phone, responds warmly. What ensues is an evolution of communications, from Twitter to Facebook to Skype to in person in September 2012.
On Opening Day of 2013, the couple—Kylee Pascarella, 23, of Palm Beach Gardens and Michael Cotterell, 25, from Chesapeake—was in the stands amid Meenan’s army. It was Pascarella’s first trip to Citi Field.
“Being around the people that brought her and I together makes it that much more special,” Cotterell told me.
THE WAREHOUSE WAS COLD AND IT WAS RAINING OUTSIDE.
Meenan and Sayoran were headed out for lunch, but there’d been a delay—an issue with a shade of brown ink used to illustrate a baseball bat on a grey t-shirt. A warehouse employee conducted trial runs on scrap fabric, three times. Meenan called over the warehouse owner, a bespectacled man wearing a yarmulke, for his input. Sayoran, appearing slightly restless, went outside to her car and came back, before sitting down at her workstation and finishing inventory on the day’s orders. In the background, 400 of another shirt were coming off the press. They were soft, blue cotton shirts with the number 31 circled in white, bordered with orange, with blue pinstripes; a representation of what it will look like when the Mets retire Mike Piazza’s number.
After about a half hour, Meenan seemed happy with the brown. He and Sayoran hopped in his car and drove a few blocks to a Burger King on 179th street in Jamaica. Meenan ordered a few chicken wraps, Sayoran a chicken sandwich and fries. They found a seat at a booth near the back of the restaurant and discussed upcoming group outings. Sometimes, when he gets talking, veins in Meenan’s neck begin to pop. He became particularly animated when speaking of the trip to Wrigley, the popularity of which has him thinking that it would be an easy thing to organize outings all over the country. Perhaps he wouldn’t even go, but just facilitate the outings by purchasing the tickets and selling them on his site.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, he revealed another part of his plan.
“I want to open a bar,” he said.
Right across the street from Citi Field, he said, in the area adjacent to the stadium inWillets Point, commonly known as the Iron Triangle. The City Planning Commission recently gave initial certification for zoning changes over a 23-acre plot now populated by ramshackle businesses and junkyards. Developers are proposing to replace them with a $3 billion redevelopment project for the area around the Mets’ home field. Meenan hopes it will include a location for The 7 Line Bar, a place he envisions including a beer garden, with live music and a t-shirt shop in the front. He’d hire his friends to run it. Customers would tailgate outside.
“If we can get 900 people to go to a baseball game,” he said, “how many people do you think we can get to come to a bar?”
Meenan insisted he isn’t getting ahead of himself, but he was clearly excited about the prospect. He leans in when he speaks and sentences run together. In his mind, it seemed the bar is already built. He said that maybe when it’s open he’ll go to every game. Maybe he’ll sit behind home plate with his mom, or in center field with a few hundred of his friends. Either way, he’ll feel at home.